Pawling Public Radio (WPWL) hosted the annual Chili Cook-Off fundraiser on Saturday, February 16. Held at the Pawling Fire House on South Street, the evening invited the community to come out and sample a multitude of spicy culinary concoctions. The event raised more than $1,200 to support the station’s radio programs and operations.
In its fourth year, the Chili Cook-Off featured twenty participants competing in both meat and meatless categories. More than eighty attendants gathered at the fire station to sample the chili creations, try their luck at raffles, and enjoy the musical stylings of Joe Adami. Raffle items included tickets to Disney’s Frozen on Broadway and an hour in a flight simulator, but the truly sought after prizes were the coveted awards for Best Chili.
To decide chili superiority, the competition selected a panel of judges from local culinary institutions and the Pawling community. The judge’s table consisted of Ben Christgau (Tap House Tavern and Tacos & Cones), Karen Dapper (Karen’s Diner), Valerie Gropper (My Brother Bobby’s Salsa), and Paul Stoveland (Pawling Fire Department). In addition to the judges’ selections, attendants were also tasked with casting their votes for the “People’s Choice” award.
After sampling each entry and much deliberation, the judges made their final selections. In the meat category, Chris Benedetto took first place for “Benny’s Over The Top Chili,” with Sandro Ore placing second and Lisa Kelsey being awarded third place. Following his first place victory, Benedetto also received the coveted “People’s Choice” award.
“Benny’s Over The Top Chili” featured a flavorful blend of ingredients, including ground beef, bacon, honey barbecue sauce, jalapeño peppers, brown sugar, and an array of spices. “I’m so excited,” said Chris Benedetto. “To win first place, but also to win People’s Choice is something that makes me feel great. Everyone who came in here said they loved my chili.”
For meatless entries, Gina Shustak’s “Pepper Chili” was awarded first place honors, with Christine Bexley finishing second, and Rosemary Walogorsky taking third place. The winning concoction featured six different peppers, Jamaican hot curry powder, and a multitude of spices and beans, and also had the distinction of being vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free. “I feel great, because I’ve never made this recipe before,” explained Gina Shustak. “I kind of just made it up, and I wasn’t sure how it was going to go over, but it went over well. I didn’t want to do too spicy, because I wanted to please the people. Everyone else’s was really good, too!”
Following the heated competition, officials from WPWL were pleased with the evening’s event and are already looking ahead to next year. “We’re planning to do it next year with more door prizes and giveaways,” said Event Chairman Mike Shustak, whose wife Bernadette was instrumental in organizing raffles and crafting the awards for the evening’s winners. WPWL Chairman and fellow chili chef Bill Bonecutter also spoke about the evening’s success: “I really think the Chili Cook-Off has become a signature fundraiser for us and a community favorite. I met a lot of people, competitors and attendees alike, who I have never met before and glad they all went away knowing more about Pawling Public Radio and having enjoyed the evening.”